It may seem like an unusual path, experiencing a tornado in Massachusetts a couple of years ago to accepting an honor at the White House today. But Caitria O’Neill, CEO of San Francisco-based Recovers, was honored in Washington this morning as a “Champion of Change,” a title being bestowed to 15 leaders of civic hackers, or organizations that use technology to serve their communities, work toward open government and more.
Recovers sells software that enables cities to prepare for a disaster, an idea born out of O’Neill’s work when a tornado hit her hometown of Monson, Mass., in 2011. She and her sister, Morgan, started coordinating and organizing donations amid all the chaos.
“We kept seeing people bringing donations, but they were being turned away by emergency responders,” O’Neill said in a phone interview today. It was understandable, she said, because the many people who wanted to help could have been hurt themselves.
After the sisters sprang into action, they soon began to “burn out,” O’Neill said. It dawned on them that “this must happen everywhere. The Red Cross and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) can’t do everything.”
Recovers is no stranger to receiving accolades. Its founding in 2012 — by the sisters and CTO Alvin Liang — was helped by a $340,000 award from the Knight Foundation, which last year named the company one of six winners of the Knight News Challenge for creating a tool that among other things helps disseminate news after a disaster. It has also won grants from organizations such as the MIT Public Center, the MassChallenge Startup Accelerator program and Code for America.
Besides the additional national exposure the White House honor is bound to bring, it’s “a nod to say what we’re doing is necessary,” O’Neill said.
Photo at top: Supplies for rebuilding are stacked outside a home damaged by a May tornado in Moore, Okla. Moore has a Recovers website. (Associated Press)